164. An Old Debt We Owed. For more than a century and a quarter American school children have been thrilled by the story of the great Frenchmen who came to our aid in the dark days of the Revolution. Look over the map of the United States and you see counties, cities, parks, and streets bearing the names of Lafayette and DeKaib. Monuments likewise testify to our esteem. In spite of all this, we still felt we owed France a debt we had not paid. The time came when we could pay it.

165. The Balkan States and their Neighbors. Look at the southeast corner of Europe and you will see the Balkan Peninsula. For the most part, it is a rough, mountainous country. Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece are the leading states. Turkey, once large, is now one of the smallest states. How could a war which shook the entire world begin in so small a part of Europe? How could these little states be the apparent cause of a struggle that drew in nearly all the great nations of the world?

The Balkan States have for near neighbors Austria and Russia. Both were great nations and both kept a keen eye upon these states and upon each other. Germany, with the best standing army in the world, supported Austria; France, with the next best army, stood by Russia. Russia had the biggest army of all, but it was not well trained.

Both the German Kaiser and the Emperor of Austria declared their right to rule came from God. English kings claimed this a long, long time ago, but not now. The German and Austrian monarchs were the heads of their armies and were greatly respected by their people. Authority came from the Kaiser down to the people. Such a government is called an autocracy. In our government authority begins with the people and from them passes up to the president. Such governments are called democracies. France has a government similar to ours, and England, in spite of her king, is also a democracy, because governed according to the will of the people.

When one man, like the Kaiser, has so much power and a great army to back him, he is likely to dream, as Napoleon did, of conquering the world. The German Kaiser planned to cut his way through the Balkans and, with the aid of the Turks, to reach Bagdad on the Tigris River, on the route to India. How rich German merchants and German laboring men would be when the wealth of India flowed into the lap of Germany!

166. The Great World War Begins. Suddenly, in the summer of 1914, the Crown Prince of Austria and his wife were assissinated while in the Balkans. (See map) Every capital in Europe thought of war! Austria blamed Serbia for the murder, and declared war upon her July 28.

In the meantime England used every means to induce Germany to stop Austria, in order to get the nations to come to a peaceful settlement of their dispute. Germany refused. Both Russia and France now called their millions of sons to arms to meet the oncoming flood of Germans.

The Germans made a dash at France, aiming to go through Belgium. But Belgium refused to permit them to pass over her soil. After days of fighting, the great German guns tore their way through. As soon as Belgium was invaded, England declared war. Germany had promised not to invade Belgium. Besides, England now saw that her turn would come next.

The French and the English met the Germans at the Marne and drove them back in the first great battle of the war (September 6-10). The Germans got within twenty-five miles of Paris!

The Russian forces made a dash for the German capital, but Russia had traitors in her own army. The Russians were finally driven back, after capturing several Austrian cities.

England had a small army at first, but she set herself to the grim task of training millions of men. Canada, Australia, South Africa, and India, now began sending thousands of their sons to the defense of "old England." The women of France and England were not to be outdone. They bravely took the places of men gone to war. People soon got used to seeing women in uniform.

With the coming of fresh soldiers, both sides dug deep trenches to protect their men. For three years the two great armies surged back and forth; how one and now the other was victorious.

While this was going on, the Germans were trying to make parts of Belgium, France, and Poland worse than deserts. They destroyed cities, towns, churches, libraries, and cathedrals. They carried thousands of men and women to Germany to work on German farms and in shops. They-destroyed factories and coal mines, carrying away to their own country all the good machinery. They took for their own use the cattle and horses. Only old men, women, and children were left, sometimes to starve. It was America that sent millions of dollars worth of food to be distributed, under the direction of Herbert C. Hoover, among these starving people.

167. The British Navy Victorious. For centttries the British navy had ruled the seas. When this war broke out, England sent her warships to shut upthe German war fleet in the Baltic Sea. Other British ships scoured the seas and captured or drove off every enemy ship. Many German merchant vessels sought American ports for safety. At the close of 1914, Germany had lost many of her colonies and millions in trade at sea.

In 1916 the German warships came out to attack the British fleet under Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty. But they did not try it again!

168. America Declares She Will Take No Part in the War. Turkey and Bulgaria threw in their fortunes with the Germans, while Italy, Rumania, and Japan joined the Allies. President Wilson declared America neutral; that is, he said this country would take sides with neither party. This was more easily said than done. By birth and by ties of kinship, thousands of our citizens belonged to the fighting nations. Who could judge calmly while relatives were being slaughtered?

German trade was completely cut off. But the Allies bought from us millions of dollars worth of clothing and shoes for their soldiers. We also sold them horses, mules, trucks, ammunition, and railroad supplies by the wholesale. Friends of Germany objected.

America refused to stop. Strange things began to happen: strikes in factories, an explosion where war munitions were made, and the appearance of newspapers favoring Germany. Later it was discovered also that Germany was tiying to stir up Mexico to give us trouble.

169. Sinking of the "Lusitania." The "Lusitania" was an English liner and was sunk by a German submarine. The submarine is a boat that travels under water. It throws torpedoes and it cannot save the peopie on the boat it sinks! Germany could send out from her ports only submarines, but with them she planned to starve England by sinking all her merchant ships.

The "Lusitania," the pride of England, was steaming along the coast of Ireland May 7, 1915. Nearly two thousand people were on board, happy at being so near land. Not an enemy was in sight. Suddenly bubbles began to appear on the surface of the ocean, and in a moment a monster torpedo struck the ship’s side. Then another! The giant vessel trembled, and in twenty-one minutes sank. She carried down with her eleven hundred people, over one hundred of whom were American citizens.

The whole world was horrified, except Germany, which struck a medal in honor of the event! From pulpit and press began to arise the cry for war. President Wilson, however, still stood for peace. He protested to Germany against such inhuman acts. She did promise not to destroy any more ships carrying passengers without first giving them warning and a chance to escape.

Germany stopped her submarine warfare for a time, but parties among the Germans demanded that their Kaiser use the submarine to bring England to her knees. During 1916 many hundred ships were sunk. Among them were some carrying American citizens and flying the American flag. To farseeing men it looked as though war was bound to come. Several thousand Americans had gone as soldiers, nurses, and doctors to help the Allies. But the President was not yet ready to decide on war.

At the close of 1916 Germany was winning nearly everywhere. She had beaten back the Russians and had crushed the Rumanians. Austria had driven the Italians back upon their own soil, and the Turks had captured an English army in the Tigris Valley. The Kaiser’s dream of a route to India seemed to be coming true. He offered to make peace. The Allies rejected the offer, although they had lost thousands of men in the great battles of Verdun and the Somme.

The Kaiser was furious. He decided to let loose his submarines and bring England to submission. He wanted to cut off her food and munition supply from America.

170. America Declares War. Early in 1917 the President at last took action. Germany sent word that she was going to begin submarine warfare in earnest. She declared that she would permit our trade with Great Britain and Ireland, now grown to be the richest trade we had ever had, to go only to one little port. Americans were indignant. Our ambassador to Germany was called home and Germany’s ambassador was sent back. Cannon were put on every Atlantic merchant ship. The Kaiser, with his usual overweening pride, had said to our ambassador that he would not stand much foolishness from America! This was not foolishness! It was business.

The President appeared in Congress, April 2, 1917, to tell Congress and the country what Germany had done. The news spread, and every bit of space on the floor, in the aisles, and in the galleries was filled. It was a wonderful gathering. There sat senators, congressmen, Supreme Court judges, the ambassadors from foreign nations, and distinguished visitors from different parts of the country. rhere was deep silence as the President began, and men bent forward to catch the first sounds of his voice. They were clear, ringing words, too. There was no bitterness or hatred in them, but his reasons were beyond answer as he told the story of what we had suffered at Germany’s hands. When he declared that "the world must be made safe for democracy," the cheering broke forth. The President advised Congress that Germany was making war upon us. Four days later (April 6) Congress sent forth the declaration that war had been forced upon us by Germany. Thousands of pacifists, many of them German sympathizers, hurried to Washington for the purpose of preventing this declaration.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific the country was aflame with patriotism: "Old Glory" was flung to the breeze, and the recruiting officer was soon found on every college campus and village green in the land. Farmers were urged by state and nation to raise mare food. "Food will win the war!" was the cry. Students from school and college volunteered to take the places left by the farmers’ sons. Both state and nation called on people to plant more gardens than ever before.

To encourage our people and to talk with our leaders, the Allies sent some of their great men. France sent the hero of the Marne, General Joffre; Great Britain sent a statesman, Arthur Balfour. A great meeting was held at Mount Vernon. What a picture it was!: the flags of the United States, Great Britain, and France flying overhead as Joifre and Balfour placed wreaths upon the’ tomb of Washington! Balfour then said: "Nd spot on the face of the earth where a speech in behalf of liberty might be made, could be more appropriate than at the tomb of Washington." This, too, from a distinguished son of England, whose power Washington once humbled.

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© 2001 by Lynn Waterman